Your Guide To The 2019 NCAA Men’s Tournament: Midwest region
Top seed outlook: On paper, the Midwest seems to be the most open of those four regions, but we still provide No. 1 North Carolina the best odds, with a 35 percent probability of reaching the Final Four and also an 18 percent likelihood of appearing in the national championship match. Those odds are 8 percentage points lower compared to every other No. 1 team in the area, though, and for good reason: North Carolina’s crime depends on turning every play right into a fast break. The Tar Heels fight to get to the free-throw lineup and give up a slew of shots along the perimeter, and that, at a slowed-down, half-court matchup, could be quite problematic.
After getting waxed by Duke to start the season, No. 2 Kentucky has caught fire in recent weeks while finding equilibrium on the two ends of the floor and mostly abstaining from the 3-point line. No. 3 Houston, meanwhile, is currently in the midst of its best season because Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were revolutionizing school basketball, and they boast a defense that ranks among the top together and in the perimeter.
Sneaky Final Four select: No. 5 Auburn. Whenever the Tigers steamrolled Tennessee 84-64 in Sunday’s SEC title game, it likely got the focus of a lot of bracket-pickers. That wasn’t a one off — Auburn also conquer Tennessee eight days before, part of a series of eight straight wins for the Tigers, and 10 in their past 11 games. Having an explosive offense (No. 8 in KenPom efficiency) that acquired more of its points from downtown than every other team in the NCAA field, Auburn can heat up in a hurry. We give the Tigers almost a coin-flip’s likelihood of making the Sweet 16 — and also a very solid 37 percent likelihood of beating top-seeded North Carolina if the Tar Heels are waiting for Auburn there. The only kryptonite may be a hypothetical regional-final matchup with No. 2 seed Kentucky, which defeat the Tigers by 27 in late February to sweep their season collection.
Don’t wager : No. 4 Kansas. The Jayhawks went into the season ranked No. 1 in the AP’s preseason poll, and they seemed to validate that the option by starting the season 10-0. However a 15-9 record (plus some key injuries) since then have cast doubt on Kansas’s NCAA Tournament possible. This really is a well-balanced team, but to state it doesn’t shoot well from the exterior is a understatement — see KU’s 3-for-18 functionality from deep into Saturday’s Big 12 ouster from Iowa State. Insert a negative draw that puts them on a potential second-round crash course with Auburn (see above), and also we give the Jayhawks only an 8% chance of making out of the Midwest with their championship hopes intact.
Cinderella watch: No. 11 Ohio State. If a Big Ten team that has made 11 Final Fours could be a Cinderella, then you are considering it in those Buckeyes. (Hey, the committee’s increasing tendency to con underwhelming power-conference colleges this way really messes with the definition.) OSU went only 18-13 during the regular season, was defeated its second Big Ten tournament game also has almost two times as many losses as wins because New Year’s. Why are the Buckeyes a potential Cinderella? Despite the seed, this is still a dangerous team, one that ranks 27th in Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive ratings and has celebrity forward Kaleb Wesson back out of suspension. So perhaps they will provide Big 12 champ Iowa State trouble. But mainly this tells you something about the other potential Cinderellas in this area: Seton Hall obtained an extremely tough first-round matchup with underseeded Wofford; none of the additional low seeds are world-beaters. That leaves the Buckeyes, a team which did all it could to perform its way from the championship, but includes some mad potential regardless.
Player to watch: UNC, Cameron Johnson On a group that doesn’t hoist a lot of shots from the perimeter, Johnson is as deadly as they are come. Following an injury-riddled effort where he barely made more than one third of his looks from beyond the arc, the grad student is canning 46.5 percent of his efforts, which positions inside the top 25 nationwide.
Johnson has thrived in North Carolina’s every-possession-is-a-transition-opportunity scheme this season. He’s blossomed into one of the best scorers in the ACC, ranking between the 85th and 100th percentiles in scoring efficiency in transitionoff screens and on spot-ups.
Johnson has elevated his game in conference play, boasting the ACC’s top offensive rating (132.5) and accurate shooting percentage (64.6). Unexpectedly, a participant who was not viewed as a bonded professional now jobs for a second-round pick.
Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Washington over No. 8 Utah State (49 percent); No. 10 Seton Hall over No. 7 Wofford (37 percent); No. 11 Ohio State over No. 6 Iowa State (33 percent)
Have a look at our March Madness predictions.
CORRECTION (March 18, 2019, 3:10 p.m.): A former version of this story misstated the number of Sweet 16s created by Villanova lately. Although the Wildcats have reached the NCAA Tournament’s”third round” in four of the past five seasons, that around was the Round of 32 until 2016 because of NCAA naming conventions.
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